These days, Floridian firefighter Dani Campbell is starting more fires than she’s putting out. She’s become a favorite with straight and gay fans alike on MTV’s bisexual dating show A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. On December 18th, we find out if Dani wins Tila’s heart. Either way, she’s a real-life hero who’s already captured ours.
GO: How did you get involved with A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila? Was reality TV something that had interested you?
DANI CAMPBELL: I’d never thought about it. Honestly, it was just a whim. MTV was hosting auditions at a bar, and people were telling me I should do an audition tape. At first, I was like, “No way!” Then I had a couple more drinks, and before you know it, I was in front of the camera. Two weeks later MTV flew me to L.A., and that was it.
How did you feel when MTV revealed that you would also be competing with men for Tila’s affection?
It’s MTV, so I knew there would be a twist. It was no big shocker; it was funny. But the other girls were pissed. And at first the guys were excited because they thought we were there for them. Once they realized we were competitors, they started to worry. When it was all girls, we thought, “What a ground-breaking show!” Little did we know it was even more than that; it was a bisexual show.
What do you think about bisexuality? Is it a choice?
I don’t think who you love is a choice. It’s just how you feel inside. But it is a choice to hide it. I’ve dated bisexual women before. Even straight girls sometimes say, “Wow, I never had
feelings for a girl. You’re the first girl I’ve had these feelings for.” I think who you’re exposed to can bring out different emotions.
Was there really as much conflict behind the scenes as there appears to be on television?
That’s all real. So it’s not exaggerated. Unfortunately, there was a lot of alcohol involved. Everybody makes mistakes when they’re drinking, and not everybody deals with their emotions the way they should. For me personally, I didn’t know Amanda was trashing me until I watched the show last week. It was funny. I wasn’t angry, just a little shocked.
In Episode 6, there’s a big fight between Brandi and Vanessa. That you actually broke up. Did you see it coming?
The animosity between those two was building. They would yell and scream and bitch and complain. At other times, they were friends. It was crazy. We kind of knew that they didn’t like each other, but it caught us all off guard.
In the early episodes, you led the girls to victory twice against the guys in the physical challenges. Was it satisfying?
I’ve watched shows before where it was guys versus girls, and the guys are always really cocky. But you know what? Girls win alot of the time. Sometimes guys just seem to turn their brains off. It felt really good to do well.
What did you think of some of the outfits MTV asked you to wear, i.e., the risqué angel outfit?
I refused to wear that and told the producers they could kick me off the show if they wanted. I’m not going to change who I am. They were shocked, but then they thought it was awesome. When I got the angel outfit, I wore my own stuff: my Vans, my khakis, whatever. Tila asked where my angel outfit was, and I said, “This is it!” And the pink bikini thing…Oy vey. I just did myown thing, but I’m a trooper, a team player. I wore it on top of my bathing suit. It was embarrassing, but funny. We had a blast.
How has your family responded to you being out on television? Do they have concerns?
I hadn’tseen my family in a month, and I didn’t get to talk to them before the taping. So I”ve been a little nervous! But my family is totally supportive and incredibly loving. We didn’t used to talk about [being gay] much, but now we do. It is a huge part of my life, such a big part of me. Since the show, my mom and I do talk about it more. Now my mom knows this isn’t a phase. She was in that old-fashioned state of mind, and concerned people were going to judge me or make fun of me. But she feels better about it now.
What was is like coming out as a lesbian to your grandmother on television, especially after Tila gave her that lap dance?
It was the first time I actually verbally came out to my grandmother. But she already knew; she’s a very smart lady. I’d probably ask anyone else I bring home if they planned on giving my grandmother a lap dance! [laughs] I was shocked! But Grandma dealt with it really well.
In another infamous segment,the contestants were asked to frolic in a pool of chocolate.Fun or gross?
It was a little gross, because I’m not down for rolling around in chocolate with a bunch of dudes. Tila may have had a blast, but I’m still gay, and I don’t want a chocolate covered penis rubbing on my leg.
Was there a moment during eliminations when you thought you were going home?
In the beginning, I wasn’t as confident. I just felt like a number. When I started to see what everybody else was about, I thought, “They won’t make it here. So many of these people don’t have both feet on the ground.”I didn’t see the level of attraction between Tila and anybody else. When Tila told me I needed to step it up, I kissed her the next night.
You locked lips with Tila a few times on camera.What’s it like to kiss someone on national television?
I was thinking, “This is going to be weird!” Trying to kiss somebody, and these people are just standing around staring? But, you know, when you’re in the moment, you just kind of shut it out. And after the
first time, I just stopped paying attention to everybody there. I got used to it real quick.
How much input did the MTV producers have in the way the show unfolded?
Basically, they kept us on track because they know that the audience wants to know what’s going on, and sometimes we don’t explain well. They only coached us to keep us on track.
How did it feel to be chosen one of two finalists?
It feels good that Tila recognizes what I have to offer. The show was more realistic than I thought it would be. I did a lot to get there.
Since appearing on the show, do people treat you very differently?
I’m definitely getting phone calls from people I haven’t talked to in a while. But I know who my friends are. I kind of miss my normal, old life. Now people are always coming up to me. At the same time, it’s cool that so many people recognize me. Even the tellers at the bank know my name!
If you could have known how your life would change post-A Shot at Love, would you still have participated?
I figured it would be like this, but not to this extent. But yeah, I would definitely do it again. So many kids contact me, especially gay kids. They tell me I’m a hero, a role model. Gay men and women thank me
for just being myself.
There aren’t many butch women on television. Do you think you’re opening some minds out there, including Tila’s?
When I was on the show and competing with these femme girls, a lot of people assumed they would be sticking around because, well, it’s television. But I never thought that way. I have a lot to offer, so it was never a problem. The show’s about how people feel, and Tila saw a different side of me after getting to know me and was like, “Wow, I really like this chick.”
Tila fans love you, contestants love you, hell we love you. How do you explain your universal appeal?
I think its’ because I’m an extremely positive person. Maybe I exude a level of confidence because I genuinely like myself. I am also unusually honest which to most people is like a breath of fresh air.
On the show, you said your mother raised you single-handedly. Do you think your upbringing has helped keep you grounded?
It was just my mother and me, pretty much. We’re here for each other. My mom always told me I could be who I wanted to be. She encouraged me never to give up. I know she’s always there for me, and she loves me for who I am. She’s helped me push forward and obtain my goals. If wasn’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be here today or be the person I am.
When did you come out to your mom?
My mom found out when she busted me making out with a girl when I was 16. A while later, I told her I was gay. Before the show, I never talked to her about the possibility of my having children or about the legal rights I don’t have. She just wasn’t comfortable with it. It’s a big deal for a lot of kids that are coming out. Now I do speak openly with her, and our relationship is 10times stronger.
Did you always know you were gay?
I’ve always known. I wasn’t always able to identify it when I was younger because it was never talked about. Girls were supposed to be with guys. That’s how it was.
When was your first relationship with a woman?
I was 16 and in high school. She was a friend of mine. One night when I was staying at her house, we were in bed with the lights out. She reached over me to grab some ice from a bedside table, she put the ice in her mouth and asked me to take it out! I was like, “Oh, my God!” It was the best feeling in the world. I took the ice, and that was it. [laughs] We dated secretly from then on.
Do you feel comfortable being a role model, and did you look up to anyone in particular when you were growing up?
Since I’ve been in the public eye, I’ve found I can help young people think more positively about themselves and be proud of who they are. I’d love to continue being a role model. Not just 15minutes of fame, but really changing people’s lives.
My high school home-ec teacher had a huge influence on me. She changed my life. She taught all of us to be good listeners and to have respect for each other. She made me want to be a better person, and I’ve been working on it ever since.
We can only imagine what it’s like to serve as a professional fire fighter, putting your life on the line every day. How do you deal with that?
I don’t think about the dangers. It’s like a switch flips on, and it’s go time.
Have you been involved in any really intense rescues?
During Florida’s ‘06 hurricane season, 15 people were using an outdoor generator inside a house. They were sick from inhaling toxic carbon monoxide. When they called us for help, they thought it was food poisoning, so we didn’t bring our air masks. We realized the problem when we arrived, and we carried out the survivors while we held our breath. We could have lost everyone.
Before I was a firefighter, I saw a huge accident in heavy traffic. It was in rural Florida, and I knew it would be a while before help could arrive. A semi had hit a car at 70 mph. The car caught fire, and the driver was pinned under the dashboard. With the help of bystanders, I pulled him out to safety. I guess it’s the way I’m wired; I just do what’s necessary.
How do you think your appearance affects the way your male colleagues perceive you?
Feminine or masculine, I don’t care what you look like if you have what it takes. But as a female, you definitely have to prove yourself in this line of work.
When guys first see a female firefighter, they have doubts. I did everything the guys did, and I never whined about it. The guys in my department say, “I would go into a fire with Dani any day.” I’m never going to leave anyone behind. I’ll do what I have to do to save someone. At the end of my firefighting training, I received two awards: Most Outstanding Performance and Highest Academic Award. We all respect each other as firefighters. Do your job and do it well. That’s what its all about.
What do the guys at your firehouse think about the show?
They all watch it with their families. Their kids love me! They ask me for autographs. Everyone at the firehouse knew I was gay; I never hid it. But it’s taken a lot to get to this point, to be so comfortable. At our firehouse, we have a deep love for one another.
Word has it you’re launching a new clothing line designed for “women like you.” Tell us about it.
I shop in guys’ departments, but the clothes are always too big. It’s hard to find nice clothes when you want to go out. I can’t find a jacket that’s tailored quite right. That inspired me to create a more androgynous clothing line geared for women and men who are in the middle. My line will be called Futch Apparel.
When MTV asked me to describe myself during the audition, they gave me the option of saying feminine or butch. But I don’t like the whole label thing. I don’t consider myself either. My friends always tease me for how long it takes me to get ready to go out, they say I’m so girly. So I used the term “futch,” right in between.
The clothing line is still just an idea, and I need to find a designer who shares my vision. My goal for Futch Apparel is to make women and men like me feel comfortable and proud of who they are.
We all witnessed your star appeal at the GO Magazine 5th Anniversary Party. What’s it like to be a sex symbol?
[laughs] You know what? That was cool as hell. When Julie Goldman introduced me and the girls started screaming, I felt like I was a rock star. I told Amy [Lesser] I wanted to go back out on stage with her, the party was so much fun. It’s all been amazing.